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NFFN England Blog

Thank you for joining us for the launch of our NFFN England blog! We’ll be regularly updating this page with blogs from farmers across England.

January 2021

Business Planning with Nature – Patrick Barker

This time last year I attended a ‘Farm Sustainability’ seminar at our County Showground and one of our leading local land agents on the stage that

day said, ‘the 2020s will be a decade of change for British agriculture.’ This time last year seems a lifetime ago already with Brexit, The Agriculture Bill and the Covid pandemic but we can see that the impact of all three will change our industry immeasurably. Through all of this we need to ensure that we have farms, businesses and an industry that is fit for the future and we are starting to see what that future is going to look like. As farmers we need to be as productive as we possibly can be but in ways that we have not considered in the past. Production for us no longer means the amount of wheat in the barn at the end of harvest but the amount of wheat produced using as little fertiliser and spray chemicals in a farming system that increases soil health and water quality, while reducing emissions, sequestering carbon all on a farm full of wildlife – simple.

Sound business rationale will have to be the base of every decision and moments of head scratching in the farm office, as the 60-year safety blanket is phased out. Knowing the cost of everything will be vital to making decisions to ensure a profitable short and long term future. I cannot see a more important time for every farm to be engaging in an environmental stewardship scheme. Receiving a guaranteed income for land that does not guarantee a return should be top of every farmer’s list of New Year resolutions. Doing everything we can to increase our environmental credentials not only sends a message to the policy makers (who are listening) that we can be part of the long-term solution to environmental improvement, but also to our public who are desperate to support our industry but have been let down so many times by reports of bad practice and negative press.

 

There is no magic bullet to being fit for the future, however there are a number of steps that can be taken to arm ourselves with the information that we need.

  • Start with a well planned and well thought out stewardship scheme for streamlining operations and taking marginal land out of production, whilst adding greater protection to habitats and natural resources.
  • Next, a farm carbon audit will give a good idea of the changes that might be required and show where future opportunities might lie for reducing carbon released and hopefully for carbon offsetting.
  • Finally, know what you have. By knowing the wildlife i.e., the species and habitats that you have, you can then make informed decisions on how to preserve, increase and encourage more.

In 2007 we decided at the very start of our first ES scheme that if we were taking public money, we wanted to be able to show how we were using it and the benefits that it produced. I started recording the birds I saw on the farm and compiled data for a few external projects like the Big Farmland Bird Count. This has been done consistently since then and I now have sent data to 30+ NGO projects, have 2 volunteer recorders out on the farm most weeks and, for 2020, have just sent over 4000 individual records of 10,000 sightings of 403 species to the Suffolk county recorders. Whether it is wildlife recording, carbon offsetting, making money or converting to a whole new farming system if you start small and work at it you never know where it might take you.

Patrick is a member of the NFFN England Steering Group and farms in Suffolk with his cousin. The farm aims for high yields combined with high level conservation and is a LEAF demonstration farm and AHDB Strategic Farm. Follow on twitter  @The_Barker_Boys

Picture Credits:

Barn Owl,  Grey Partridge – Hedley Wright